Here are some things that could trigger seizures.
Light seen through a fast-rotating ceiling fan may trigger a seizure. Using a slow-rotating fan would reduce this risk.
Watching films, including 3D films, at the cinema doesn’t pose a risk in itself. However, some films contain images such as flashing or flickering lights, which could trigger a seizure.
In the UK, the British Board of Film Classification states that it is up to the film makers and distributors to identify works in which there may be problems with flashing lights. They should then make sure that, if necessary, warnings are given to viewers about this. However, there is no guarantee that this will always happen.
Looking at an interactive whiteboard is not likely to trigger a seizure, unless the material shown contains flashing or flickering lights, or contrasting patterns.
Fluorescent strip lights and light bulbs may trigger a seizure if they flicker because they are faulty. Otherwise, they should not cause you a problem.
Flashing Christmas tree lights
At the moment there is no UK law that directly covers the frequency at which Christmas lights can flash. So these could be a seizure trigger for someone with photosensitive epilepsy.
If you think you have had a seizure triggered by looking at flashing Christmas lights in a public place, you may want to complain to the Events department of your local council. Councils must look into complaints about artificial light if the light could be classed as a ‘statutory nuisance’ (covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990).
For the artificial light to count as a statutory nuisance it must do one of the following:
- Unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises
- Injure health or be likely to injure health
Flashing novelty badges
Novelty badges do not have to comply with health and safety regulations, so they could flash at any rate. There is the possibility that these could cause you to have a seizure.
Flashing bicycle lights
Legally you must have a white light on the front of your bike and a red light on the back. There is a law that says these lights must not flash at a frequency above 4Hz. So they are very unlikely to trigger a seizure in someone with photosensitive epilepsy.
You may come across strobe lights in places like night clubs, discos and theme parks.
In the UK, the flash rate of strobe lights is restricted to a maximum of four flashes a second by the Health and Safety Executive. This rate is considered to be safe for most people. However, some people with photosensitive epilepsy may still find strobe lights could trigger a seizure.
Some high contrast or moving patterns can trigger seizures in some people with photosensitive epilepsy. Here are some examples.
- Black and white stripes
- Some patterned materials and wallpapers
- Large areas of floor and ceiling tiles with high contrast lines
- Looking down a moving escalator
Being in sunlight is unlikely to trigger a seizure if you have photosensitive epilepsy. However, looking directly at certain patterns connected with sunlight could trigger a seizure. Here are some examples.
- Sunlight through slatted blinds
- Sunlight through trees, viewed from a moving vehicle
- Sunlight reflected off moving water
- Sunlight through moving leaves
- Sunlight through railings, as you move past them
Sun beds may trigger a seizure if the tubes flicker because they are faulty. Otherwise, they should not cause you a problem.
In the UK, the flicker frequency of wind turbines on wind farms should be limited to 3 Hz. This flicker rate is unlikely to trigger a seizure.
Wind turbines that are not on wind farms are not subject to the same planning regulations as wind farms. If a turbine is in the wrong position in relation to the sun, it could create a strobe effect. This could trigger a seizure for some people with photosensitive epilepsy.
If you live in the UK and have concerns about a planned or existing wind farm, you may wish to contact the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), who can provide contact details of specific wind farm operators.
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website or contact our Epilepsy Action freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Professor G F A Harding, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology, Aston University and also Professor Stefano Seri, Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology at Aston University and Consultant at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for their contribution to this information.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated March 2015To be reviewed March 2018